LIVE REVIEW: Jeremy Messersmith @ Joeâ€™s Pub, 8/17/10
There is something deeply intriguing about Jeremy Messersmith. Stepping on stage adorned in horn-rimmed glasses and a white tapered blazer, his likeness to James Dean stood stark against the near-empty platform. Messersmith gives off an air of genius, like the boy in school who read philosophy and poetry and actually grappled with what it meant, not just carried it around to show off the binding. Such vivid, albeit morbid, imagination seems apparent in his newest album, The Reluctant Graveyard, from which much of the night’s set came. Whether it was years of Nietzsche and Sexton or simply just the product of a 21st century old soul, Messersmith’s performance highlighted a masterful composer and a talented, if tormented, storyteller.
With the stage absent of any band, Messersmith utilized various effect pedals. While such technique has increasingly suffered abuse from his contemporaries, Messersmith employed no clichÃ©s of tiny violins, both real and figurative, at moments to cue the audience’s emotions. Instead, his wistful use of various instruments elevated intrigue as to how exactly the smacks against the guitar strings, the shaking tambourine, and a whistling harmonica would all fall together. But when the beat played back an instantaneously catchy loop, it was clear that while a band might have been interesting, Messersmith could carry the show all by himself.
For all his technical and musical prowess, Messersmith still managed to poke fun at his own ostensible obsession with the great beyond. For the show’s one-song encore, Messersmith quipped, “I like to think of this song as an after dinner mintâ€¦to get all that death and dying out of your mouth.”
Messersmith’s affair with the melancholy should not be seen as the songwriter’s only dimension. While the night’s playlist reflected a certain sadness and fascination with humans’ certain mortality and uncertain fate, his tempos were often rambunctious and upbeat. When playing “Lazy Bones” and “Repo Man” one had to look around to see if Garfunkel was not standing against the bar conducting, while “A Girl, a Guy and a Graveyard” paid homage to one of Messersmith’s greatest influences, The Beatles, with a leading lady named Lucy.
Messersmith still drifted into the sullen, pulling on guitar chords and heartstrings when he strummed out songs like “Little Children” and “Novacain.” Haunting tunes like “John the Determinist” sounded as if they had been lifted from the cutting room floor of Radiohead’s studio in 1997. But while Messersmith’s songs had multiple, identifiable references, they remained at arms’ length, sharing influence without overpowering his originality.
At the end of the show, one might have had the urge to look around to see if the ghosts of musicians were leaning against their bar stools raising a toast to the fine, young kid. For what Jeremy Messersmith had done so well was take from all those before him, both living and dead, and resurrect them in a completely new, unique and hauntingly captivating way.